Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pre-All-Star-Break Check-In: trade rumors, potential representatives, Kapler, contention

The Phillies are ten games over .500 (1.5 GM back of the Braves & 2nd WC leaders) and I project them to enter the All-Star break with a 54-41 record despite a double header and all road games. They also have an 18-7 record in 1-R games, but mostly it's the players doing well. The rest of July except the last two days (Red Sox) is fairly easy with 3 vs the Padres (37-51), 3 vs the Dodgers (47-39), 4 @ Reds (38-49). This will allow them to buy at the deadline.

Who's going to the All-Star game in DC? Aaron Nola is a sure lock after winning his 11th game (T1 NL, T3 MLB) and if he continues to pitch well (top ten in most pitching categories), he'll likely be in the top 5 in the NL Cy Young vote! Herrera won't start in the game, but he, Dominguez, Hernandez, and Eflin have the strongest cases with Hoskins an outside shot. However, considering this is the first-year they're contending, two will be justified and also great (1st time since Lee & Brown went in 2013). Some players are having woes and inconsistencies but they're winning despite Kapler: yes, less questionable moves but they still happen. They are greater than the sum of their parts - not to the same degree as the Eagles, but close.

Congrats to those who are ultimately selected and good luck. As for the trade deadline, the Phils will buy and while Klentak's phone bill will likely be the most expensive out of all the GMs this month, he will only buy at the right price. With the Orioles requiring at least one of the team's big prospects for Machado, it would be best/ more likely to get him in FA and go after Beltre or Moustakas. Former Phillies Hamels and Happ are the lefty starters they could acquire but the rotation is doing well enough that acquiring a lefty reliever would be a better move.

An exciting month of baseball so far and it just got started - Go Phillies!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Phillies Pitching: Making the Right Call

Before I discuss the pitchers and their roles, a quick check-in about a week of games played: 4-5 record but 3-1 in 1-R/ extra-inning games. I'm not entirely sure that Kapler is doing a good job based on those numbers but it is a small sample. I think the 4-5 record is a better W-L record to use. The deep line-up is mostly responsible for the 3-1 record.

So, who is on the short leash in the rotation?

Nola is stretched out, and pulling him early is clearly the only sure-bet-bad-decision. Arrieta's debut was rough so he'll need his next start or two to be stretched. Both are allotted 7 innings, which is 2.5 turns through the line-up, at minimum, but more likely 3 turns through. Ben Lively and Vince Velasquez are looking terrible but worthy of a 'pen spot if they do not improve. They each can manage nearly one turn through the line-up, which is all you need of a long man. I'll give Vince two more starts. Ben gets a bit longer. And both get to face the line-up twice at most. Eickhoff gets at least a month upon his return and could also get the short leash. Eflin gets about a month but he, Leiter, Jr, and Thompson should, upon return, be in the bullpen due to performance history, depth, and/ or injury history. They get one turn through as long men (maybe 10-11 batters faced if crusing) and slightly longer (10-15 batters faced) if starting. And Nick Pivetta had a stellar performance the other night with Franco's 4 RBIs. Keep it up and he's on the longer leash. Otherwise, short leash and/ or AAA, then bullpen if he can't make it in the majors. And when Eschelman debuts, long leash!

And in the bullpen, who - besides the injured Hunter & Neshek - are your long men?

Garcia might. Morgan could. I'd say Neris is your traditional closer but could occasionally be used in non-save/ longer-save/ late-middle relief. Everyone else is a 2-to-4-out guy. Most of your long men are also former/ spot starters, as mentioned above. We need Hunter and Neshek back. So far, the bullpen is improving each series. Good to see. Let's hope they can produce outs efficiently.

Overall?

Overall, if guys are cruising, let them continue to face batters. The aforementioned numbers are merely guidance. If they don't cruise, then we have a problem, obviously, and the coaches will have to intervene. If no improvement, then it's to the 'pen for most and to AAA for some.

Good luck!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Phils Offense: Balancing Playing Time

Addendum 2 to my opinion & Phils on a roll - W 4/18 @ 9:45 AM EDT:

The Phillies are on the road playing the Braves and won in the 10th inning, continuing a good record in close &extra-inning games. Everyone is executing just enough to win - some struggles. The pitching is coming around and that made for some easy (read: "traditional") decisions. The offense has sputtered as of late but I'm not worried. I am concerned about J.P. Crawford's struggles against lefties... 2/27 against them. Small sample, short career and slow starts the last few promotions for him are mitigating factors, so I'll give him more time but Kapler will have to start thinking about resting him vs a lefty. And summarizing this article: We have 8 line-up spots and 12 players (7 and 10 not counting the catcher) - good depth! Florimon & Altherr are probably getting the least playing time - but expect them to get at least 2-4 GM per week.

Addendum to my opinion - Tu 4/10 @ 12:30 PM EDT:

Maikel Franco, by virtue of the last three years, does not deserve as many starts but his bat is hot and thus, needs to continue to see increased playing time. Williams' go-ahead, eventual-game-winning, PH HR shows he deserves more playing time despite a history of increased Ks & high BABIP. Right now, it appears that the odd men out are J.P. Crawford (extremely low AVG) and Aaron Altherr (age, experience, injury history, versatility) followed by Kingery (age, versatility), Santana (age/ experience, lower offensive ceiling than Hoskins) and Franco (history). The point still remains: deep line-up is making for tough decisions overall but I do see opportunity for more regular playing time for everyone.

------


I see that Herrera only started four games out of the first six, Franco drove in 4 R yesterday, Hoskins is hot, Crawford is not, and Williams is now curious as to what's driving [down] his [lack of] playing time. This needs to change but there's a balance. So, I'm taking a look at the offense to see who should get most of the starts:
  1. Pitchers will be the next entry - I answer "Who's on the short leash in the rotation?" and "Who besides Neshek & Hunter can go 2-3 innings?" although the former question is more important.
  2. This is easy: both Knapp & Alfaro should play equally as both deserve it - promising first impressions last year & the last two Septembers respectively and both had good Springs and can call a game - at least better than Rupp. How will Kapler find playing time here? It's primarily the schedule (the day game after a night game or limiting consecutive starts) but offensive production, pitcher requests (a la Halladay & Chooch 2010), match-ups, or health could play into the equation, especially late in games.
  3. Santana is your primary first baseman but as a veteran in his 30s, he needs and could handle two off days per week. This will help the OF defense a bit as Hoskins is only just starting to learn LF.
  4. Hernandez should get most of the starts here as he is certainly become productive over the last few years, it's his natural position and he could be traded. This is also Kingery's natural position so he needs to see some time here, too.
  5. Franco is the guy that - per the last few years - doesn't deserve to start more than four games per week except when his bat is hot plus the Phils are looking to trade him. He'll have to platoon with Kingery and possibly Crawford.
  6. Crawford needs to see his coaches right now because he's not hitting - all of the players, including JP, are working counts well though. Putting Kingery in here 1-2 times a week for now is the right move.
  7. Review of earlier post: Hoskins is a hot bat but his .471 avg will come down closer to .300 (probably ~.315). Defense needs usually require him to start at 1B once per week and be moved there for extra innings. Altherr is probably the best bet as back-up.
  8. Herrera should have started O.D. and should play nearly everyday with Altherr also backing him up. Perhaps Hernandez, who has played CF professionally, can start here once a week, too, but Herrera should be the first off the bench.
  9. Williams and Altherr will platoon and Kingery can play once a week here. I'd say Williams should play here most as Altherr will still get plenty of PAs despite both being young - Altherr has more experience.
Kingery should be your first bat of the bench but he'll be starting 3-4 games per week. Altherr is your primary back-up OF. I - and Kapler - are fans of giving guys regular rest and regular playing time. So, with his willingness to use his bench more and - as I've discussed this offseason - that it's a three-man bench after the 2nd Catcher... there will be ample playing time for others. You'll see most guys end up between 200 & 550 PAs as opposed to between 150 & 650 PAs during the Charlie Manuel era. Lack of embracing BBs and especially less playing time for the bench did hurt Charlie and his team during the post-season and late in his tenure.

Kapler, find the balance between analytics and traditions like the eye test. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Dear Mr. Kapler

Dear Mr. Kapler,

I appreciate that you are going to listen to the fans and that there is a plan. Those will go a long way in gaining (regaining?) respect in Philadelphia. I'm no expert but it doesn't take a baseball wizard to see that there are risks to this plan and there are some experts who prefer Klentak's plan. Please implement that. Reviewing...

Do not pull Nola or Arrietta early. This will save innings later in the year. Each get 90 in their next start. Pivetta, Lively and when he comes up, Eshelman are good to stay in given their low experience. Two to three turns through the line-up for them. Velasquez needs to be given a four-start notice if he falters again or it's to the bullpen. He gave up a run on four outs and three runs on eight outs before he allowed lots of consecutive base-runners - what he did before that is a good starting point for a bullpen spot. That was not your fault nor is the absence of Hunter & Neshek and most of your long men. When they return, things will be better if you use these guys effectively. Most of the long men are going to be starters this year (typical injury & ineffectiveness-of-others depth). Those players in that category, when starting, will usually get two turns through the line-up but might be pulled early, then another long-man steps in. That's Klentak's plan. Oh, by the way, why did you not stretch these guys late in Spring Training?

I like the "eight-of-ten approach" to your line-ups but you might want to maximize run production early like Franco needed to start against Harvey tonight (Maik is 3-for-8 against him) yet I understand the need to give opportunities to Kingery and Franco is the perfect (probably only) candidate from which to take ABs - Crawford might also be a candidate depending on how things go. And for late games, I'm ok with the need for best defense but Hoskins' bat is too important to take out late. Move him to 1B instead - Santana is similar offensively to Rhys but Rhys is more likely to out-OPS Carlos than vice versa plus Santana's defense at 1B is rumored to be similar to Howard. All this - and the Utility and RF platoons - will become clearer late. Equal opportunities dependent on age & experience!

I wish you luck. I really do. This year is a turning point in the rebuild. The guys played .500 ball from the All-Star Break on. We need to maintain that to attract free agents. Also, what will deter them is them being on a short leash, regardless of team success and financial benefit. We maintain that, get a few break-outs and supplement that in July and the coming winter, we have the postseason made in 2019. Heck, what we have now could get us the Wild Card (and yes, you do have to push for the division!), but only if we take advantage of an easy schedule at first. Each month gets progressively harder for two reasons: more series vs. last year's playoff teams plus the grind of a 162-game season. Keep that perspective! I love the boldness. I love the messages. I definitely think some change is needed and some unconventional things need to be done but temper it. Not everyone is into it - fans, players or even executives. Know when. And my view of leadership is knowing what to say AND - more importantly - whether to say. it.

Humbly

Jaron

Saturday, March 24, 2018

2019 and Beyond!

Ok, so I titled this after Buzz Lightyear. Appropriate, considering we decided to rebuild about 3 years ago and it's almost complete! Went by fast... not exactly 186,400 miles per second (speed of light) but it seems only yesterday the team made that decision.

The 2018 roster is looking good. You'll see some adjustments later - Kingery, Rupp, Florimon, and Eschelman most notably - but who's in on Opening Day & the depth are pretty clear. As we know, 2018 is all about seeing who stays for the next four years and who does not. This entry attempts to look at how the 2019 "40-Man" Roster will be composed - from the minors, majors or outside the organization - based on 2018 success and also roster status. Let's begin:

Rotation

Aaron Nola, though young, has shown remarkable consistency in the last few years. He is everything we expected when we drafted him. This year is the last steps of his development: stay healthy and get Cy Young votes. He'd have to win 20 on his own or the team would have to contend for the wild card, but he sure could with a good fastball, decent sinker, incredible curve, and a recently-added change-up. If he performs and makes 30+ starts, the team sure would at least knock out arbitration.

Jake Arrieta is also a sure bet. Over time, he'll decline as his velocity has decreased over time. Still, a veteran with recent success is enough evidence for me... and if he declines faster, there's an out after 2019.

Tom Eschelman, being the rookie looks like the only sure bet. Most players can be successfully evaluated at 2-3 years in and that's exactly what the Phillies have been doing for most guys. I am very eager to see how he does.

I can guarantee two guys will be successful: one of Pivetta, Velasquez, and Eickhoff and the other being from the whole depth chart minus Tom, Jake, and Aaron. Most of the guys will succeed in 1-2 turns through the line-up but not being able to go through the order one or two more time... those guys will - for 2019 at least - end up in the bullpen as long men.

Overall in the rotation, we will see movement during and after 2018. There will be room in performance and roster status (due to depth needed for injuries) for 1-2 free agents. I will make an exception to the no 2008 rule and accept Cole Hamels if he wants to return. He's still very good - in fact, he is in the top 15 with Arietta and Nola.

2019: A core of one free agent to supplement Nola & Arietta, an evaluation period for Eschelman, and lots of overlap with long men & spot starts.

Bullpen

I can guarantee T Hunter & P Neshek will be on the 2019 roster. L Garcia and especially A Morgan could drop as they're nearing arbitration. H Neris is probably staying on in 2019 by both performance and roster status. We'll have 3-4 long men (2-3 inning guys), as previously mentioned.

2019: good core of our two signings, lots of long men, Neris as closer.

Offense

The bench will be, after OF 4 & C 2 (discussed below), Florimon (utility) & Valentin (40-man roster)... OF Quinn could be on as well but his injury history will keep him in AAA to start.
  1. Pitchers: Again, Nola & Arietta remain atop the rotation with the rest dependent on 2018 success and Eschelman getting the 5th starter role. Velasquez, Pivetta, Eickhoff, Lively, Eflin, Thompson, and Lieter Jr - called "The 7" - are needed for rotation depth but for opening week(s) 2019, only one of them will be part of the rotation. The rest will join the 'pen as long men/ spot starters with Hunter (if he's not traded), Neshek, Neris, possibly Garcia but absent Morgan. We're good in numbers for 2019 w/ one coming from outside the org but which of The 7 wins the opening week job is unknown.
  2. Catchers: Alfaro begins his evaluation period and Knapp continues his. Alfaro has downside and upside while Knapp stole the job from Rupp and thus has slight upside. Both Alfaro and Knapp are going to be on in 2019 and we'll be great. Some downside factors in later.
  3. Santana at 1B in 2019 is a guarantee just like Arietta. After his contract ends, Hoskins takes over in 2021 (for 2019, Hoskins remains in the OF and is discussed further under #6).
  4. Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery performing well, due to the former's high arbitration, makes for an interesting battle in the 2nd half of 2018. The best bet, if Cesar does well, is to trade him but if not, he'll be a guarantee for 2019 and get most of the starts. Both might need to be utility players if there's no trade and both can be by past or present history.
  5. This is becoming a bit monotonous but this is a make-or-break-year at 3B for Maikel Franco. If he holds his own around a .270-AVG, he could be on the roster in 2019 as back-up (can't happen for 2020 due to arb status). He could be the primary if he hits .275 or better. His bat recently exploded in ST but the opinions are stacked against him.
  6. J.P. Crawford will begin a two-year evaluation period. He'll have help from the bench and from other starters. He is the better overall player than Galvis, who's defense will sorely be missed.
  7. The defense will be down here but Rhys Hoskins won't be out there all the time and his offense (despite the poss. of the league adjusting to him) should be more than enough to overcome a low/ negative dWAR. He's guaranteed in 2019.
  8. Herrera is a guarantee in 2019. No need to review the success he's known over years of hard work in the year before and the years after his Rule 5 selection. A rule 5 center fielder?! Reminds me how we built the 2005-2012 rosters!!! And if Herrera can learn OF defense, so can Rhys.
  9. Two outfielders here: Williams & Altherr. The latter is guaranteed a positive WAR based on last year's performance, especially if he's healthy. The former is in his three-year evaluation period but so far so good. Gabe will be able to find playing time, especially with a four-man bench most of the year.
In terms of WAR, the offense here will be fine overall but most of the players will end up with peaks of 2-4 per year... excellent but not like Chase or Ryan or J-Roll. However, break-outs in 2018 could change that.  Plus, the coaching staff is an unknown, too. There's opportunity in 2019 for free agents in all areas... offensively, Machado is a probably yes, Harper is possible and Trout (after 2020) is definite. Anyway, 2019 looks good and 2020 looks good too as (1) some will complete their evaluation periods, (2) some becomes arb-eligible, we still (3) have Santana and possibly other future free agents, plus (4) a ton more players come up (Sixto Sanchez).

Great job on the rebuild, front office! Go Phillies!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Spring Training Update: Kelce, Pitching, Alfaro, Middlebrooks, Williams, Kepler

Well, it's time for a quick Phillies Spring Training update as the games start to be played.

The championship tour continues for Eagles C Jason Kelce - he visited the Phillies and gave a speech even more profane-laden than at the parade. He also spent Sunday in Manyunk with Avalon String Band. Let's see if the championship momentum benefits the Phillies as well on their quest to accelerate the rebuild.

So far, the Phillies haven't found a veteran starting pitcher but have announced that Nola would be the Opening Day starter. They are talking to Arietta's agent, the infamous Scott Boras. Price needs to come down to a 3-year deal or they'll have to get creative. And the players' union does not like rebuilds nor teams waiting for next year's stellar free agent class. Also, the players get one last chance to improve pace of play or the commissioner will take over but there is one change: a limit to total team meetings on the mound except for injuries and long extra-inning games.

On the offensive side, the non-rostered OF Will Middlebrooks broke his leg the other day but is upbeat. His slim chances before the injury have gotten even leaner. Jorge Alfaro is ready to go as shown by his grand slam the other day. His homer and Williams denting Kapler's rental car are great signs.

Ultimately, it takes (1) 11 starters, 8 of which need to be <4.0 ERA at an avg of 125+ IP per starter (3.75 ERA overall) plus (2) a bullpen holding leads (~4 ERA) and the offense scoring more runs than the pitching gives up (likely). A fourth factor is defense but all you ask of them is to limit the blunders, make the catchable plays and get some assists, which the Phillies should be able to do.

Then comes Kapler taking a very unconventional approach: he is, as he should, aiming for the NL East. Instead of the traditional team meeting he took them to dinner. They get up later and work out less, emphasizing quality of work over quantity. He even has minor league umps calling balls and strikes during bullpen sessions. Let's see if his approach works.

And the Phillies held a moment of silence for Roy Halladay during the opening remarks of Grapefruit Game 1. So sad.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Season Preview on Pitchers & Catchers Report Day

First off, Happy Valentine's Day, folks, welcome to Spring Training (pitchers & catchers report today!) and a huge congratulations to the E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!!! First-time Superbowl Champions! The turn-around is remarkable: we all know what Chip did to Howie and the 7-9 record that year and so on. Two years later, Superbowl Champs! Wow! A key factor, after getting rid of the older players Chip brought in, was getting those on rookie contracts to perform: Nelson Agholor being the biggest example - the Phillies' version is Maikel Franco. And I just have to say, as a Mummer, thank you, Jason Kelce! What a speech, too! It is also a great time to be a sports fan in Philly: Flyers have at least one point in each game since and the Sixers have won each of their games - and are on-pace for a few wins over .500. That puts them in the playoffs. And the Phillies have made a splash at 1B and the bullpen, have a new manager (that many questioned - like Doug Peterson) & coaches, and - most important- finished the last 76 games at .500.

Story Lines in Spring
  1. Maikel Franco needs to pull an Agholor and rebound
  2. Prospects like Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn (injury history), and Eschelman have an outside shot at making the roster. Quinn is on the 40-man and Kingery & Eshelman are not. Factoring in injuries, a short bench, and delaying free agency, it's looking like these guys will be sent to AAA but it won't take long to see these guys in the bigs, especially if they make a good impression in Spring & in the first month at AAA.
  3. Bench: Altherr and Williams will be OF #3 & 4. The second spot is back-up catcher and that's between Rupp's $2MM salary or Knapp's brilliant 2017 performance - or both. Fourth is the utility position and versatility is needed here: Florimon can play left side plus some OF; Quinn can play all three OF positions; Tommy Joseph could still end up here if he shows he can pinch hit under low playing time but not likely.
  4. And not to be outdone, it'll be our first in-game impression of Gabe Kepler. Can he and his staff be the next Doug Pederson (Eagles were more than the sum of their parts) or at least meet my 90% rule? We'll see.

    Gabe said two things yesterday: I agree that this team can surprise if they make strides and that the goal has to be NL East. However, realistically, this team will end up at 78 through 84 wins and short of the postseason. It takes - historically - quite a bit more for a wild card and probably a lot more for the division. He can mention those from time to time especially in his Spring speeches, but ultimately his focus will have to shift to ensuring that individuals take those steps forward.
Season Story Lines

Most important:

  1. Can the Phillies continue their success from July 12th on?
  2. Can they create leads despite a young rotation, deficiencies in defense?
  3. Can that rotation get through the first 21 batters relatively unscathed (4 R or less)? I'd like to see the depth evolve in Spring: Eschelman (AAA then MLB) vs. Pivetta (6 ERA last yr) is my biggest wonder. Lively had the best performance in 15 games last year but a low K-rate; Leiter (bullpen probably), Eflin (injuries), Thompson (BB-rate)... Velasquez gets one more shot & Eickhoff did well before battling injuries. Can they survive 162-games? Can the offense, too? It's a long season (sorry, cliche!)!
  4. And can a revamped bullpen hold leads?
They have an easy schedule the first half, playing the Mets, Braves, Marlins & four against the Orioles (the latter two projecting as 100-loss teams). As I said in previous posts, game 54 is a good checkpoint: standings, AAA team, record and - for Kepler - record in 1-run games.

One more story line that would be cool is awards: Nola could get Cy Young. Crawford, Kingery, Alfaro and perhaps Lively, Eshelman, etc. could be RoY. And Nola, Williams, Herrera, Altherr, Hoskins, or Santana could be MVP. We have bounceback and bullpen award candidates too. Obviously, if the team doesn't contend, we will see no MVP and most awards will not go to Phillies. Nola's Cy Young is perhaps the most likely (especially if 18 wins for him or more!) followed by a RoY - at least seeing votes. If they do contend or put on a fight til the [near] end, Gabe K & Matt K could be manager/ executive of the year.

We shall see... go Phillies!